Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal: Ugly ducklings

The price of crisps may rise soon in the UK, if it doesn't stop raining; the wet weather is affecting the potato harvest. This is devastating news indeed - during the Olympic games, no doubt many packets of crisps will be bought, and if the potato harvest fails, this will result in a shortage of the all-time favorite crispy snack in the long-term.

The potato harvest in Greece this year is anything but a failure. Beautiful potatoes are making their way to the fruit and vege stands everywhere in my town. I am still surviving on a gift from my uncles: they gave me a large bag full of medium-sized potatoes, good for chipping, and a crate full of baby potatoes, which they used to feed their animals with, but now keep aside for me, because they know I have more patience when it comes to peeling them. These dirty little babes are some of the ugliest edible vegetables you may have seen in your life, and they really are a pain to prepare for eating. Few people realise that by removing so much dirt from their diet, they are prone to more allergies, exacerbates by the over-use of hand sanitisers, wet wipes and Caesarean births:
"Nature’s dirt floor has been replaced by tile; our once soiled and sooted bodies and clothes are cleaned almost daily; our muddy water is filtered and treated; our rotting and fermenting food has been chilled; and the cowshed has been neatly tucked out of sight. While these improvements in hygiene and sanitation deserve applause, they have inadvertently given rise to a set of truly human-made diseases."
This kind of food is not available for sale in places where hygiene plays an important role. Dirt clinging to one's food is regarded as below certain standards, hazardous to touch, full of bacteria. But potatoes need to be dug out of the earth, so somebody must have touched that food to get it to a place where it would be washed and sanitised, then prepared in all sorts of non-toxic (as the wording will probably state on the packet) chemical mixtures, before it was processed into something that is edible and extremely clean.  

My dirty little spuds are excellent for roasting (peeled) or boiling (unpeeled) whole, without cutting them. Because they were covered in a lot of dirt when they were given to me, I can't roast them whole unpeeled. But if you scrub their exterior with a soft sponge...

... place them in a pot of water, ...

... and boil them till tender in the middle, ...

 ... you will be able to peel them effortlessly, and will end up with a beautiful soft clean potato, perfect for your summer (or monsoon, depending on your whereabouts) salads.

This heavenly salad contains a simple mix of boiled baby potatoes, a sliced onion, some banana peppers and a bed of purslane, dressed in olive oil and salt.. Everything has come from a private garden - the amount of money that I would have needed to buy these ingredients from a store has been spent instead in the time that I needed to process the ingredients.

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Speaking of crisps, Greek preferences mainly tend towards the plain salted variety, or flavoured with oregano. Salt and vinegar is sold in multi-national supermarket chains, but it's not really a Greek preference. A flavour which is very slowly catching on is cheese and onion (my personal favorite, marketed by Crunchips), while barbecue flavour (whatever that means) is usually the third option available at the supermarket. Then there are also the quirky flavours like feta cheese, tomato, tzatziki and Mediterranean herbs (etc), but they never really last long on the shelves, often replaced other quirky new flavours, as in the international market - who would really want to eat fish and chips, chili chocolate or squirrel-flavoured crisps?! Apart from Greek brands, you can also get Lays, which are often on sale, but I find that they are too flaky and don't crush too easily; while Ruffles (also a Lays product) are thicker and chunkier, they don't have the right combination of taste and salt that I want in a potato crisp, like Kettles and Boxer crisps, which aren't sold in Greece (my personal favorites).
But crisps are also easy to make at home, and when the potatoes are as good (albeit dirty) as the ones I have access to, they are a good cheap alternative to store-bought crisps.With just four not-so-medium potatoes and a mandolin slicer, I made enough crisps for the whole family.
You generally need one potato per person, thinly sliced. Pat each slice dry (to make crispier crisps), place in batches in very very hot oil, one by one, and watch the crisps form. Drain in a colander with large holes (don't place them on absorbent paper - they will simply soak up more oil and lose their crispness), then flavour as you want - I did the Greek classic salt and oregano, and served them with tzatziki. Now there's no need to worry about a shortage of crisps. And how much does one potato and some olive oil cost you? Much much less than a bag of store-bought crisps (which are slightly more expensive in Greece than they are in Northern Europe).

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